Peace in Northern Uganda: Decisive Weeks Ahead
Peace in Northern Uganda: Decisive Weeks Ahead
Table of Contents
  1. Overview
The Kampala Attacks and Their Regional Implications
The Kampala Attacks and Their Regional Implications
Briefing 22 / Africa 5 minutes

Peace in Northern Uganda: Decisive Weeks Ahead

The eighteen-year insurgency in Northern Uganda by the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) – whose extreme brutality has displaced 1.6 million people and sparked an investigation into war crimes and crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court (ICC) – may finally be amenable to resolution.

I. Overview

The eighteen-year insurgency in Northern Uganda by the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA)[fn]For more background on the LRA insurgency, see Crisis Group Africa Report N°77, Northern Uganda: Understanding and Solving the Conflict, 14 April 2004.Hide Footnote -- whose extreme brutality has displaced 1.6 million people[fn]United Nations, "Consolidated Appeal 2005 for Uganda", at Footnote and sparked an investigation into war crimes and crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court (ICC) -- may finally be amenable to resolution. But if peace is to be achievable in 2005, the next few weeks will be decisive.

The Ugandan government will need to make a concerted effort to ensure that the peace process moves forward apace by extending by a further month its unilateral ceasefire expiring on 22 February 2005. The LRA, which was shocked by the surrender of its chief negotiator on 16 February, must demonstrate quickly that it wants a peaceful resolution of the conflict by negotiating seriously in order to conclude a definitive ceasefire. Without this additional effort on both sides as well as increased international support, the promising process could crumble, resulting in more fighting and a renewed effort by the government to win the war by purely military means.

Factors on the ground add up to the best opportunity for peace that northern Uganda has had since the war began. The African-brokered peace deal in neighbouring Sudan at the beginning of the year has created some momentum. Other contributions to the improved environment for conflict resolution include:

  • the Ugandan military's counter-insurgency effort has become more effective;
  • the Sudanese government has reduced its support to the LRA;
  • the ICC investigation is putting pressure on both the LRA and the government;
  • civil society initiatives at reconciliation and bridge-building are showing promise;
  • the government offered a significant confidence building measure when it declared a 47-day unilateral ceasefire in a wide zone in late 2004 and renewed it for eighteen days on 4 February 2005 to facilitate negotiations; and
  • the able mediation of former Ugandan State Minister Betty Bigombe[fn]Bigombe has been involved in past efforts at peacemaking with the LRA, though none that have progressed as far as the current one. She has been authorised to pursue this initiative by President Museveni.Hide Footnote has built trust with the parties.

The process Bigombe has painstakingly built came into public view in the last week of 2004 when local Acholi[fn]The Acholi are an ethnic group in the northern Ugandan districts of Gulu, Pader and Kitgum that are most affected by the LRA insurgency. They belong to the larger Lwo linguistic group that originates from the Bahr al-Ghazal region in southern Sudan and are spread in many parts of Uganda and Kenya.Hide Footnote politicians, religious leaders, civil society representatives, international observers and members of a Presidential peace team all had meetings with LRA commanders. Internal Affairs Minister Dr. Ruhakana Rugunda became the highest ranking Ugandan official to talk with the LRA. Bigombe herself has met with LRA commanders repeatedly since the last quarter of 2004, discussing conditions and modalities for a ceasefire agreement as a first step towards negotiations on a comprehensive peace settlement.

The 31 December 2004 deadline passed, nonetheless, with the LRA refusing to sign the government's draft of a mutual and definitive ceasefire. When President Yoweri Museveni allowed more than a month to go by before renewing the ceasefire and fighting resumed, the process appeared dead. But Bigombe, who maintains unique relationships and top level access with both the rebels and the government, kept the lines of communication open and soon was able to resume regular meetings with the LRA. The next deadline -- 22 February when the government's unilateral ceasefire is due to expire -- should be extended.[fn]President Museveni has indicated that he will extend the ceasefire if the LRA makes a meaningful commitment to pursuing the process further. It is unclear whether the signing of the ceasefire proposal will be the only measure of LRA seriousness acceptable to the government. Crisis Group interviews in northern Uganda, 18 February 2005.Hide Footnote But if the process is to succeed, a more secure, mutually agreed ceasefire needs to be in place and negotiations started on the terms of a final settlement by April when the rainy season (the best time for LRA operations) begins.

The surrender of Brigadier Sam Kolo on 16 February 2005 leaves the process in some uncertainty. He was a voice of moderation within the LRA, and his departure means the insurgency not only is without a lead negotiator for the moment but also smarting over a high profile embarrassment. The reaction on the ground is mixed. "It is not a totally negative development", said a European diplomat involved in the process. "It is also an added value to us because we can redesign our strategy based on his insights into the workings of the LRA".[fn]Crisis Group interview, 17 February 2005.Hide Footnote Vincent Otii, deputy to the LRA's enigmatic leader, Joseph Kony, has indicated to Bigombe that he is committed to the continuation of the process.

Previous attempts to end the conflict were undermined by the hostility between the governments of Sudan and Uganda, who accused each other of violating the common border and supporting the other's insurgents. This is changing. In the last week of January, the former Sudanese insurgent and now vice president designate under the recently assigned peace accord, Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM) Chairman John Garang, was in Gulu, northern Uganda, focusing on the interconnections of the two conflicts. There is a new possibility for enhanced economic and political co-operation between at least the SPLM-dominated southern Sudan and Uganda.[fn]The New Vision reported on 29 January 2005 that Garang has promised to propose to Khartoum the construction and tarmacking of a highway from southern Sudan via Yei to Gulu to provide a direct link with Kampala.Hide Footnote

The following is needed to take advantage of the opportunity for peace:

  • The Ugandan government should extend the unilateral ceasefire due to expire on 22 February by one month in order to allow further time for negotiation; while maintaining military pressure on any elements of the LRA that reject the peace process, it should refrain from attacking its negotiators and conducting military operations inside the ceasefire zone.
  • The international community, including the unofficial European troika of Norway, Netherlands and UK, should increase its assistance to mediation efforts, and maintain pressure on the Sudan government not to resume assistance to the LRA.
  • The ICC should take into account potential impacts on the peace process as it pursues its investigation into war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during the conflict and hold back any warrants of arrest of LRA leaders at least until April, when the direction of the current initiative will be clearer.
  • The UN and the African Union (AU) should prepare to deploy monitors quickly for a ceasefire should one be agreed within the next weeks.
  • The U.S., which has been only quietly supporting the process until now, should appoint a senior envoy to serve as a partner for President Museveni and build the LRA's confidence in a peaceful outcome.
  • To build momentum and confidence in the peace initiative, donors should fully fund a disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration program for ex-LRA combatants at the same time as they increase assistance for the internally displaced (IDPs) and other victims of the conflict.

Kampala/Brussels, 21 February 2005

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